Encouraging impunity

Filed Under siasa by  

Kenya is slowly recovering from the effects of the post-election violence that rocked the country for the first two months of the year. One of the parties in the conflict, ODM, is calling for amnesty for those arrested for participating in the violence and various crimes around it. This, they say, is necessary for national healing. A blanket amnesty, in my opinion, is neither necessary nor conducive for the goal of national healing.


There are certain crimes for which we can offer amnesty without a second thought. For instance, those arrested for holding protests against government orders can be set free. That would be in recognizing citizens’ right to protest. The next order of severity would be those who participated in economic sabotage and acts of vandalism – the looters and those who removed sections of railway tracks. I feel there should be a penalty for this, if only to serve as deterrent. It need not be a jail sentence though. Some hours of community service restoring the public utilities they vandalized would suffice.


These crimes can be justified as political; as acts of defiance or protest. The same cannot be said of the ethnic cleansing witnessed in the Rift Valley. The youths who surrounded a church offering refuge to women and children and torched it in the middle of the night cannot be justified by any political motivation. Neither can the gangs of youths that set up blockades across public highways, conducted searches on vehicles and meted roadside death for members of “offending” ethnic groups. There were militias roaming the streets armed with all manner of crude weaponry raping killing and looting. We cannot, with a wave of the hand give absolution for all such sins.


The Kenyan government has an obligation to find those responsible for these acts and bring them to book. It must find out why and how the violence happened and take measures to prevent re-occurrence. The setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation commission is an important step in this process. It has been argued that giving unconditional amnesty would be a show of good faith on the government’s part and would encourage people to speak up when the Commission starts holding hearings. Proponents of this argument fail to realize that giving a blanket amnesty at this point will hinder the commission – what would be the incentive for perpetrators to step forward?


If we look at places around the continent where amnesty has been used as an incentive for such commissions, it has always been conditional. In Rwanda’s case, low-level crimes during the genocide are eligible for amnesty on condition that the perpetrator provides a full confession in open court. If it can be proven that the accused did not confess to all the crimes they committed then amnesty is revoked. High-level crimes (such as organizing militia) are not eligible for amnesty.


The fact that the loudest proponents of blanket amnesty are politicians from Rift Valley Province Is worrying. The least scary explanation would be that they are trying to please their electorate and paying little regard to the impact of their actions to the greater nation – or even the concept of nationhood. On a sinister note, there have been allegations that the tribal militias roaming the rift valley were funded by some of these politicians.


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